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Censorship at Microsoft GitHub and Employees Protesting, Leaving

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Microsoft
  • Github removes Tsunami Democràtic’s APK after a takedown order from Spain

    Microsoft-owned Github has removed the APK of an app for organizing political protests in the autonomous community of Catalonia — acting on a court takedown request sent by Spain’s Guardia Civil, a national police force with military status.

    As we reported earlier this month supporters of independence for Catalonia have regrouped under a new banner — calling itself Tsunami Democràtic — with the aim of rebooting the political movement and campaigning for self-determination by mobilizing street protests and peaceful civil disobedience.

    The group has also been developing bespoke technology tools to coordinate protest action. It’s one of these tools, the Tsunami Democràtic app, which was being hosted as an APK on Github and has now been taken down.

  • GitHub is trying to quell employee anger over its ICE contract. It’s not going well

    When GitHub Chief Executive Nat Friedman announced on Oct. 9 his company would donate half a million dollars to nonprofits helping communities affected by the Trump administration’s immigration policies, it was a peace offering of sorts.

    Employees had recently learned that the Microsoft-owned software development platform had renewed its 2016 contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

    In donating the money and making clear his personal disagreement with harsh immigration law enforcement, Friedman appeared intent on averting an internal protest of the sort that has roiled other technology firms whose software powers controversial government policies.

    It didn’t work.

    In the weeks since, frustration has risen among some within GitHub. After promising to address questions on the ICE relationship at a Q&A session scheduled for Oct. 11, executives canceled the meeting, blaming the cancellation on employee leaks, according to an email reviewed by The Times. At an all-hands meeting held Oct. 24, executives did not discuss the results of a quarterly survey showing negative sentiment toward GitHub’s leadership as planned, according to two employees.

    With the issue refusing to go away, GitHub executives have changed their internal messaging, including a memo to employees saying that barring ICE from “access to GitHub could actually hurt the very people we all want to help,” in the words of Chief Operating Officer Erica Brescia.

    “We have learned from a number of nonprofits and refugee advocates that one of the greatest challenges facing immigrants is a lack of technology at ICE and related agencies, resulting in lost case files, court date notifications not being delivered, or the wrong people being charged or deported,” read a companywide posting sent Oct. 22, signed by Brescia and the leadership team.

    Brescia’s letter was a second response to an Oct. 9 open letter from employees calling on GitHub to cancel its contract with ICE. The employees behind it said continuing to work with ICE would make the San Francisco-based company “complicit in widespread human rights abuses.” In the company’s initial response, Friedman said that though he disagreed with the immigration policies ICE is enforcing, canceling the contract would not convince the Trump administration to change them. Friedman also said the revenue from the contract — about $200,000 — was not financially material for the company.

    In response to requests for comment, GitHub referred The Times back to Friedman’s Oct. 9 blog post.

    GitHub is just the latest tech company to face employee resistance to government contracts, particularly those with the Department of Homeland Security. In June 2018, Google, facing employee opposition, said it would not renew its contract to develop artificial intelligence systems for the Pentagon. In the same month, 500 Amazon workers called on executives to stop selling facial recognition to the government, without result. Employees of the e-commerce brand Wayfair walked out of their offices in June 2019 to protest the sale of beds to immigration detention centers.

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